I gave a talk and gear demo about Lightweight and Ultralight Backpacking this week at the Appalachian Mountain Club headquarters in Boston. The AMC is one of the biggest and oldest hiking and outdoors clubs in the US with chapters in 11 states and over 50,000 members.
About 60 people attended the talk, which lasted for about 40 minutes. This was followed by an interactive Q&A session between attendees, myself, and two SectionHiker readers Ryan Linn and Mary Hardy. We set up some tables and spread our gear out on them and let people come up and ask lots of questions about it. Grant Sible from Gossamer Gear was also in town, and he did backpack demos by letting attendees try on a packed Mariposa Plus backpack.
I’d invited Ryan and Mary to help with the gear demo because we all have different backpacking and camping styles. Ryan is an ultralight long distance trail hiker who has thru-hiked the Appalachian Trail and the Pacific Crest Trail. His gear list is under 10 lbs. I’m more of a medium distance section hiker (50-200 miles) with a lightweight gear list of about 14 lbs.
Mary is more of a hiker and camper, who hikes into campsites and stays for a few days. She also makes a lot of her own gear. Her gear list weighs around 24 lbs and she’s pretty new to the process of lightening her pack. In fact, Mary is probably most like the other hikers who attended the talk. They’re just people who want to be more comfortable but they’re not necessarily obsessed with shaving every ounce.
For me, the highpoint of the evening was watching the audience interact with the gear demonstrators. We were all mobbed by people asking questions about our gear and I know Ryan and Mary had a blast telling people about their choices and about the other alternatives people can try.
I think this talk was a real eye opener for people who attended. For example, people were stunned when I showed them hammocks, tarptents, and tarps. Many had never seen anything like them and were just amazed at how easy it is to get your shelter weight under 2 lbs. The whole evening was like that. People just need to know that there is a range of different choices available to them and that they need to think about the weight of each alternative, in addition to its other functional tradeoffs.
Lightweight Backpacking Evangelism
As lightweight backpacking evangelists and educators, I think it’s vital that we aim our message at hikers who are just starting to get interested in lightening their loads. Most of these people will never become ultralight sub-10 lb backpackers and that’s ok. I think our role should be to help them understand the full range of options available, beyond what they see today at retailers. If they get hooked on going ultralight (10 lbs or less) that’s great, but my mission is to help the majority of hikers get their packs weights down to 20-25 lb (not including shoes, water, food and fuel.) That’s where I think I can do the most good as a teacher and have the broadest impact.